It’s quite difficult to determine whether or not the Model 3 is “worth it”.
There’s no dancing around it here; the Tesla Model 3 is by far the most hyped and talked-about car of the decade. The Tesla brand has come a long way from its “humble” beginnings, offering three distinct models to the consumer. In Canada, the base price of the Model 3 is $45,600 (we’ll get to this later) and the top-trim Model X can be had for up to $200,000. This 2018 Tesla Model 3 is a car that we finally have in our hands over two years after it was first shown to the public.
Say what you will about Elon Musk, but the man is a genius. Simply by offering the concept of a $35,000 mainstream market electric vehicle with a 200+ mile range, he was able to convince over 500,000 people to plop down a $1,000 deposit, effectively giving himself a zero interest line of credit to actually go and build the darn thing. This is a feat I can safely say I would never be able to pull off. As it currently stands though, the Model 3 isn’t a $35,000 car, and we’re going to talk about the price and get it out of the way early on in this review.
The car we tested was acquired through Turo, and stickers for over $80,000 after taxes and fees. This 2018 Model 3 “starts” at $45,600, but precisely zero cars in Canada are at that price point. In fact, if you want a base one, you could be waiting up to a year. This car was equipped with an $11,900 Long Range battery, as well as a $6,600 Premium Upgrade Package that adds a panoramic glass roof, heated and powered leatherette seats, and an upgraded sound system. A $6,600 Enhanced Autopilot system is also added on, along with a $1,300 premium for the paint.
Get into the Model 3 and start driving, and things start to make sense. This car may feel like the latest tech toy at first, but in reality is a genuinely fun-to-drive vehicle. The rear-mounted electric motor pushes out 221 horsepower and approximately 302 lb-ft. of torque. Like any other electric car, the torque is available immediately off idle, so it feels considerably faster than this. The Model 3 lacks the “Ludicrous Mode” function of its Model X (reviewed here) and Model S siblings, but it is very, very quick.
The handling is sharp as well, and the smallest Tesla is a pleasure to push around our favourite Toronto area driving roads. The batteries are the heaviest part of this car, and they are located along the bottom. As such, the center of gravity is very low and body roll is also at a bare minimum. With more and more conventional gasoline vehicles moving to turbocharged powerplants, we are becoming accustomed to turbo lag and a lack of throttle response. This thing rockets off from any speed, and with immediacy.
Tesla has announced to owners that while all Model 3s are delivered with a tire pressure reading of 42psi for maximum efficiency and range, reducing this to 36psi will (while impacting range slightly) make for a far more comfortable ride. The 18” Aero wheels on Michelin Primacy tires on our test vehicle look pretty sharp, but the ride is a bit on the firm side. The quick steering means the Model 3’s personality remains quite agile, with the only weakness being the squirrely Primacys. Replacing this rubber with a set that offers more grip would do wonders for many owners who carve corners.
With regards to range, the Model 3 with this 120kW battery setup is rated for 499 kilometers. Charging at a Tesla Supercharger station, it’s very easy to get up to 80% charge in approximately 45 minutes. This costs roughly $13 at current electricity rates, which isn’t as “free” as some EV drivers would have you believe. Additionally, while Model S and Model X drivers get free supercharging along the “network”, Model 3 drivers are required to pay for this service.
From a technology standpoint, the potential of the Model 3 is undeniable. The interior is minimalism at its finest, with only a large 15” touchscreen that houses every single one of the car’s controls. No, really – even the tilt/telescopic steering wheel is adjusted using that screen, as are the mirrors. This will take some getting used to, but the user-friendliness is akin to using an iPhone; simplistic and logical. Fit and finish is okay, but it’s obvious that this is a car built to a $45,000 price point – a new Honda Accord (reviewed here) feels more upscale at the end of the day. Other Tesla models we have seen and experienced have had extremely questionable build quality issues. On this Model 3, the charging port door gets eerily close to the trunk lid when both are open; we can see this door flexing over time and scraping the paint.
Also on that tech feature list is the Enhanced Autopilot semi-autonomous driver assist system. The name is a bit confusing – this is not an autonomous vehicle, though Elon insists that it eventually will be. Sure, but for now, Tesla’s Autopilot is among the best of these active safety suites. When on a longer highway haul, you can set the adaptive cruise control and watch as the Model 3 stays in its lane without any “pong” effect, and can even change lanes on its own. Stay off the steering wheel for too long though, and it will harp at you.
It’s quite difficult to determine whether or not the Model 3 is “worth it”, which is exactly what nearly everyone we know has been asking us. A few misconceptions need to be addressed first, and the main one is that EVs are maintenance free. While they don’t need oil changes, it’s important to remember that tires, brakes, suspension, and cooling are all things that will need regular attention. The electronics are covered under warranty for now, but if they do fail, they will need to be addressed.
This is a car that you buy if it fits into your lifestyle, and for many Canadians, that’s enough. It’s not, however, an economical decision. At the time of this writing, the $14,000 rebate in Ontario on this car has just been canceled, which means the price of the car is exactly MSRP with no discounts. Vehicles like the Chevrolet Bolt EV (reviewed here) offer 380+ km of range and can be had for five figures less than a similarly equipped Model 3. While the Bolt doesn’t have the panache of the Tesla name, it’s one of the best electric vehicles you can buy right now.
At $80,000, the 2018 Tesla Model 3 is a luxury product you buy to make a statement. If that’s what you’re looking for, it may very well be justifiable. It also is a car that drives very well, is legitimately fun on the back roads as well as very compliant in typical city and highway driving, and is packed with technology that’s sure to keep all generations busy for a lot of time to come. At the end of the day though, you’re buying into Tesla’s excellent marketing and paying a significant premium for an unproven product.